ISLAMABAD — A Pakistani court on Thursday barred police from arresting former premier Imran Khan through the end of the month, officials said.
Imran Khan has been accused of making verbal threats against police officers and to a judge during his speech at a rally last weekend. This latest development follows the terrorism accusations against Khan by Shahbaz Sharif’s government. It has aggravated political tensions, and drawn national condemnation from Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf Party.
Earlier, Khan’s lawyer Babar Awan requested the court to grant bail to Khan, who is the country’s popular opposition leader. Khan arrived at the court and was told to follow normal suspects’ footsteps towards the courtroom. The court agreed to extend Khan’s protection from arrest until Sept. 1.
Hundreds of Khan’s supporters gathered outside the court building, chanting slogans against Sharif’s government. Demonstrators said Khan is being politically victimized by Sharif’s government. Khan fled from the court and went to his house on the outskirts Islamabad.
Khan was defeated in the no-confidence vote by Parliament in April, and Sharif took over as Khan’s replacement. Experts say Khan may spend anywhere from several months to fourteen years imprisonment, which is the equivalent to a life sentence, if found guilty in the trial that hasn’t started against him for the terrorist charges.
Thursday’s appearance of Khan before an anti-terrorism tribunal amid tight security was the latest development in the saga between Pakistan’s government and Khan, who has been holding mass rallies, seeking to return to power.
Continue reading: Why Pakistan’s Plans to Muzzle Imran Khan May Backfire
Khan will also be appearing before the Islamabad High Court, Aug. 31, to face contempt proceedings for threatening to a judge. This case will see Khan disqualified from political life for his conviction under Pakistani law. A person convicted cannot run for office.
It is the second time that Khan — a former cricket star turned Islamist politician — faces contempt charges. After elections in 1993, he was summoned but pardoned by the Supreme Court after describing the conduct of the judiciary as “shameful” and saying it did not ensure free and fair elections.
Legal experts say Khan has limited options and could avoid a conviction if he apologizes for his remarks against Judge Zeba Chaudhry, when he told her to “get ready for it, we will also take action against you.”
Since his ouster, Khan has alleged — without providing evidence — that Pakistan’s powerful military took part in a U.S. plot to oust him. Washington, the Pakistani military and the government of Khan’s successor, Shahbaz Sharif, have all denied the allegation.
Khan was elected to office promising to end Pakistan’s tradition of family rule. Khan’s opponents claim he was elected through the support of the powerful military which has controlled Pakistan for over half its 75-year history. Since his ouster, Khan has also demanded early elections and vowed to oust Sharif’s government through “pressure from the people.”
Here are more must-read stories from TIME